We hug our friends and loved ones every day – a brief hug as a greeting, or a big, squeezing one just because we are really happy to see each other. But how much does it affect one who was forced to leave their home, take their most essential belongings with them, and travel through various countries without certainty of food and shelter in order to find a safer place to live?
At the Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos, the Boat Refugee Foundation and the Maritime Rescue Federation have set up a Woman’s Support Group, which aims at creating a safe space for women, and should ultimately grant them a sense of female empowerment. For now, it is only for Farsi speakers, due to the difficulty of finding a suitable translator. Over the past few weeks it has grown into an intimate group of Afghan women, who come to share their stories, and find psychological support.
We started one of our sessions with an icebreaker that initially seemed a bit simple and childish. Every woman was supposed to give each other a hug that lasted for 20 seconds. Relaxing music with the rhythm of a heartbeat was playing in the background. Two women stood up, made eye contact, and embraced for a long time. The others were visibly touched, as they started standing up as well and hugging each other. Some started crying, while others were smiling warmly at us, saying ‘tashakor’ (Farsi for ‘thank you’) a many times.
After all the terrible and inhumane events and circumstances these women have been through, it is beautiful and rewarding to see how tiny gestures can help. As a volunteer, you do not have the power to give the refugees a pass to Europe, nor certainty for the future, but you can remind them and yourself that despite many cultural differences you are still equal human beings with the same basic needs for love and safety.
Credits to Juul van de Geijn and Mariana Branco for setting up this group!
Text: Jeanne Lenders